During the first two weeks of June 2012, the Pluralism Project at Harvard University and Andover Newton Theological School hosted an intensive summer seminar in Greater Boston that challenged participants to grow in their leadership capacity by discussing case studies, making site visits to local religious communities, and learning how to be effective in public narrative.
Twenty-two students from the Boston-area theological schools and two Pluralism Project undergraduate interns participated in the “Building an Interfaith Community and Leadership: The Boston Workshop,” a seminar made possible by generous support from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.
Guest instructors from local Sikh, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Jewish communities introduced participants to their houses of worship and religious practices. Case studies and discussion, led by co-instructors Dr. Diana Eck and Dr. Jennifer Peace, invited the cohort to explore the challenges and opportunities that arise when building an interfaith community. Participants also attended a day-long training on the use of public narrative, led by Dr. Marshall Ganz of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
Through case discussion, public narrative, and site visits to local religious communities, this seminar invites theological school students from Greater Boston to develop skills for interfaith organizing and community-building. Case studies offer participants the opportunity to explore together the dilemmas at the intersection of religious and civic life and to reflect theologically on the implications of leadership in a multi-religious society. Site visits and integrative sessions with guest lecturers from the Sikh, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Jewish traditions increase multi-religious literacy. Public Narrative training sessions leverage personal experience as a tool for translating values into action.
The Building an Interfaith Community and Leadership Seminar was generously funded by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation. A special thanks to guest lecturers and faith communities of Greater Boston who served as hosts, guides, and conversation partners throughout this seminar.
Pluralism Project Case Studies (provided by instructors)
The Pluralism Project develops case studies and explores new ways to creatively apply them to teaching and learning in the theological and religious studies classroom. The primary texts are the issues that arise in the contexts of our civil society, public life, and religious communities. In addition to discussing case studies and thereby building religious literacy, leadership capacity, and critical thinking skills, several participants crafted original case studies or “seed cases” for their final project.
Select Case Studies
Sign of Division | Before a joint worship service is about to begin in Sharon, Massachusetts, an interfaith leader asks the rabbi if they can remove a sign supporting Israel from the synagogue’s lobby.
Trouble in Troy | In Troy, Michigan, a Hindu resident challenges the city’s “Judeo-Christian” observance of the National Day of Prayer.
Invocation or Provocation? | A local resident who identifies as a witch asks to deliver an invocation at the Board of Supervisors meeting in Chesterfield County, Virginia.
Center of Dispute | Daisy Khan navigates the dispute over a planned Muslim Community Center in Lower Manhattan, which opponents call “the Ground Zero Mosque.”
Fliers at the Peace Parade | A pastor distributes fliers at a Sikh parade in California: to him, it is an expression of his Evangelical faith; to the Sikhs, and some other local citizens, it is an affront.
- “The Case Method in Practice,” Harvard Business School
- “Participant-Centered Learning and the Case Method: A Case Study Teacher in Action,” Harvard Business School
- “Strategies for Reading a Case Study”
- Pluralism Project Case Studies Online
Marshall Ganz, Lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, describes public narrative as “the art of translating values into action.” He explains: “Leaders use public narrative to interpret themselves to others, engage others in a sense of shared community, and inspire others to act on challenges that community must face. It is learning to tell a story of self, a story of us, and a story of now.” Ganz and his team trained participants in public narrative through modeling, coaching, and reflective practice.
- “Why Stories Matter” in Sojourners Magazine (2009)
- What is Public Narrative?
- Hillel’s Questions: A Call for Leadership in Sh’ma: A Journal of Jewish Ideas (2007)
- Public Narrative Participant Guide for Building an Interfaith Community and Leadership Seminar (2012)
Site visits to local religious communities included integrative sessions led by guest lecturers who addressed the group’s questions as well as placed the local community into broader historical and contemporary context. Participants prepared for site visits using tradition sections from On Common Ground: World Religions in America.
Check out the Pluralism Project’s Guidelines to Field Research.
Student Reflection: Mark Kharas Harvard Divinity School
Student Reflection: Najira Ahmed, Wellesley College & The Pluralism Project
Christianity | Christian communities visited individually by students (Greater Boston)
Student Reflection: Nancy Rottman, Andover Newton Theological School
Buddhism | Buddhist communities visited individually by students (Greater Boston)
Student Reflection: Joshua Mugler, Harvard Divinity School
Hinduism | Sri Lakshmi Temple (Ashland, MA)
Student Reflection: Betsy Tabor, Andover Newton Theological School
Sikhism | Milford Gurdwara Sahib/New England Sikh Study Circle (Milford, MA)
Student Reflection: Jason Smith, Harvard Divinity School
Additional Seminar Opportunities
In addition to site visits to local religious communities, seminar participants had the opportunity to reflect on leadership at the Harvard Art Museums and to hear first-hand accounts from leaders engaged in interfaith work in Greater Boston.
Museum Field Trip | Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard Art Museums
Guided by staff in the Sackler Museum’s Education Department, participants were invited to reflect—as a group and as individuals—on questions of leadership, identity, and narrative by engaging with the collections and the gallery space at the Harvard Art Museums.
Student Reflection: Chris Alburger, Harvard Divinity School
Panel Discussion: Models of Interfaith Cooperation | Harvard University
Leaders from key interfaith groups in the Greater Boston Area offered insights about their work in a panel discussion at Harvard University. Each panelist, with varied backgrounds in youth, college, and community interfaith work, described the challenges and opportunities of grassroots interfaith engagement. After the formal session and lunch, panelists and participants chose to reconvene in order to continue the rich conversation.
- Janet Penn | Executive Director, YouthLEAD
- Victor Kazanjian | Dean of Intercultural Education and Religious and Spiritual Life, Wellesley College
- Latifa Ali | President of the Board of Directors, Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries
Students reflect on the Seminar and its impact on their theological education and vocational goals.
“This course helped me define my own ministry better and who I am when it comes to interfaith engagement.”
“This course not only gave me tools to use and a focus for further study in my program but also tools to put to use immediately in my own community.”
“I feel that all three elements made for a well-rounded introduction to interfaith leadership and community building. I also was grateful for the Interfaith Panel and all of the collective experience represented in the room that day. As I seek to discern my place within interfaith engagement and the specifics of my call I will draw heavily on this experience and use it to help guide my choices within my program of study.”